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Blow-by-blow: Home team rally to beat Rest of World at Mexican Challenge

2 October 2014
Mexico City (MEX)
Aida ROMAN’s last arrow secured victory in the recurve team match and the Mexican Challenge event title for the host squad…

The concept of the Mexican Challenge is simple: eight of Mexico’s finest archers shoot against eight of the most successful archers from around the world.

In its second year, the Mexican challenge is gathering incredible popularity among athletes around the world for its already-famous Mexico City crowd. It’s estimated over 5,000 watched the event on Sunday morning, with many more tuning in on live cable television and repeats throughout the next two weeks.

The teams

An independent competition, athletes at the Mexican Challenge are chosen on criteria including past results, but placing huge importance on media presence and attitude in front of a crowd.

The concept of the event is to raise the profile of the sport in Mexico – so athletes are chosen to contribute to the show!

Mexico: Juan Rene SERRANO and Luis ALVAREZ (recurve men); Aida ROMAN and Alejandra VALENCIA (recurve women); Gerardo ALVARADO and Julio FIERRO (compound men), Linda OCHOA and Brenda MERINO (compound women)

Rest of World: Crispin DUENAS and Mauro NESPOLI (recurve men); Maja JAGER and KIM Yu Mi (recurve women); Matt STUTZMAN and Roberto HERNANDEZ (compound men), Albina LOGINOVA and Pascale LEBECQUE (compound women)

Each archer shot two individual matches, one against each of their team counterparts in the same competition discipline, before two four-on-four team matches: compound then recurve.

An individual match handed the team the winning archer was on one match point, while a team match win was worth two. The winning team overall was the one that collected the most match points by the end of the event…

First round

A visit by the Mayor and restrictions on the amount of time the competition could spend on the busiest, central street of the Mexican Capital meant that the first round of individual matches had to be shot two-at-a-time, to save time.

Popular with the already-packed crowd, Matt STUTZMAN struggled against ALVARADO. He lost by two points, but his World compound men’s teammate – El Salvador’s HERNANDEZ – beat Julio FIERRO by the same margin.

Score: Mexico 1 – 1 Rest of World

The first compound women’s bouts were split. LEBEQCUE beat MERINO while two-time world champion Albina LOGINOVA lost to Linda OCHOA.

LOGINOVA’s bow had been delayed in arriving and there was superficial damage to the riser from the transit. She didn’t look comfortable.

Score: Mexico 2 – 2 Rest of World

One match point to each team in the first recurve men’s matches, too – though Crispin DUENAS and Juan Rene SERRANO went to the wire. Tied 5-all after set play, thanks to an unlikely recovery from Canada’s DUENAS, the Canadian shot a solid nine in the shoot-off.

SERRANO’s arrow was better.

“That was rough for me,” admitted Crispin, bronze medallist at the last World Championships. “I’ve been working on some stuff back home so this is me shooting in the middle of a form change.”

“I know I can do better. But this is the best I can do right now.”

Italy’s NESPOLI beat ALVAREZ, six set points to two.

Score: Mexico 3 – 3 Rest of World

The only straight-set win of the event came courtesy of reigning recurve women’s World Champion Maja JAGER. VALENCIA, her opponent, wasn’t happy.

Claiming she was more nervous shooting that match than her gold medal final on Belek beach at the end of 2013, Maja said she enjoyed being on the high shooting podium at the Mexican Challenge: “you’re on the same level as the audience. It’s intimate.”

JAGER’s World teammate KIM Yu Mi was mechanical in her win over the face of archery in Mexico, Olympic silver medallist Aida ROMAN.

(Danish archer Maja was, by the way, the primary translator for KIM – who won an Indoor Archery World Cup stage last season. Since she moved to Korea to train full-time she’s had a year of language courses to get up to speed.)

Despite obviously enjoying exploring the new culture during the programme of events put on for the athletes prior to competition – including a private mariachi concert while floating on a barge in Mexico City’s canals – KIM was very clear about her favourite part of the trip…

“Shooting!”

Two match points, and the Rest of World team started to pull away…

Score: Mexico 3 – 5 Rest of World

Second round

…but it didn’t last long.

Roberto HERNANDEZ shot okay, but Gerardo ALVAREZ shot better – and won his second match of the tournament.

Then STUTZMAN, up against FIERRO, couldn’t keep up. He shot too many nines and lost by a point. “I’m already thinking about how I could have shot better, how I can fix it,” said Matt as he left the venue.

Shooting as part of an able-bodied team, the London 2012 Paralympic silver medallist in the compound open competition – who was born without arms and shoots with his feet – was disappointed in his performance.

Matt came back out to the field after his match to sign a shooting shirt on stage, before personally delivering it to someone in the crowd – who were screaming for attention.

“I’ve shot in this country maybe four or five times and it’s been like this every time,” STUTZMAN said of the atmosphere.

Score: Mexico 5 – 5 Rest of World

After an uncharacteristically low score in her first match, Russian archer Albina drilled a solid 145 to beat MERINO by two. OCHOA was five points off Pascale LEBEQCUE’s pace in the fourth and final compound women’s match, and the Frenchwoman only managed a 141.

Just a few minutes after the scores had been levelled, team Mexico were behind by two, again.

Score: Mexico 5 – 7 Rest of World

The gap remained after the second recurve men’s matches.

SERRANO went to a shoot-off again, this time against Mauro NESPOLI – but this time he lost. ALVAREZ found his form to beat DUENAS.

Two-time Olympian Crispin DUENAS still enjoyed the experience. “I’ve never seen so many people turn out to watch archery in the street,” he said.

Score: Mexico 6 – 8 Rest of World

At the Mexican Challenge the only coaches permitted are other archers in the teams.

“I shot alone for many years but this season I’ve been lucky to have my coach behind me,” said Aida ROMAN – who started working with her current mentor at the start of 2014.

“The first match was crazy. My arrows were in a group out of the yellow and I started to feel stressed.”

Her second match was better, though. Her Rest of World team opponent Maja JAGER, with compounder Albina LOGINOVA behind her, couldn’t find the middle. She shot eights left and right, low. ROMAN shot well: well enough to secure a 7-1 match win.

If VALENCIA had won her match against Korean KIM, the overall score would have been tied heading into the team matches. She didn’t. KIM wasn’t as clinical as in her first match against ROMAN, but was consistent enough to beat Alejandra in four sets.

After two messy match-ups, Mexico’s VALENCIA was confused: “I don’t know why my arrows weren’t hitting the centre.”

Score: Mexico 7 – 9 Rest of World

Team round

“I knew we needed to win,” said Gerardo ALVARADO, last up on the line for Mexico. The team was made up of all four compound archers in the squad, with each athlete shooting one arrow an end for four ends. (Similar to standard mixed team rules.)

Two match points behind the Rest of World squad, Gerardo just needed to hit with his last arrow to level the competition up.

“I was listening to Linda counting,” he explained. He didn’t have long to release: “I just made sure I shot.”

ALVARADO hit, in the nine.

On the opposite side of the line, the World team looked dejected. HERNANDEZ said it was a tough match to lose: “we wanted to win to get a little space for our recurve team.”

Score: Mexico 9 – 9 Rest of World

As if scripted, the Mexican Challenge came down to the final match – a recurve team match-up. Similar to the compound contest, all four athletes made up the team with each shooting one arrow per set.

The first team to five set points would win.

Quickly, the Rest of World team jumped 4-0 up. The girls were shooting first, and shooting 10s, with DUENAS and NESPOLI backing things up – and it was working. Mexico had ALVAREZ and VALENCIA start, and Juan Rene and Aida finish the rotation.

“I was crying after the individual matches,” admitted VALENCIA. “But in the team matches my teammates gave me power. I was back.”

In the third set, her teammates started shooting very, very well, too.

The international team let the pressure off and Mexico capitalised with two strong series, levelling the set score at 4-all and forcing the match and event to a shoot-off.

Maja and Yu Mi started with an eight and a nine. With another VALENCIA 10, the Mexican team jumped two points ahead in the sudden-death tiebreaker.

The World boys ended with a 20 – for a 37-point total – leaving little leeway, but when SERRANO nailed a perfect 10, too, the advantage sat with the hosts.

Aida ROMAN, Mexico’s Olympic silver medal archery superstar, stepped onto the line. The international team had looked so much in control during the early stages of the event.

But they had no control over Aida’s deciding arrow.

“I was pretty excited. All the pressure was on me,” she said, remembering the moment. “I had 10 seconds. Drawing, holding… and then I shot.”

“It was a really nice shot.”

And it landed just low of the 10, in the nine. A 38-point shoot-off total for Mexico, one point more than the challengers. The Mexican team – and crowd, which had been so taught for the final eight arrows of the event – erupted.

Final score: Mexico 11 – 9 Rest of World

“This is my house,” a confident ROMAN stated after the Mexican team collected trophies and presented a token to the World representatives. The token: a sombrero, of course.

Aida might be the name people in Mexico now most associate with archery, but the closeness of the whole squad was evident throughout the event. Not only through the competition on the field but in its organisation.

Before Aida came along, it was Juan Rene SERRANO who led archery in the country.

He is often asked by national media when he will win a big tournament. But as well as still shooting at a high level, SERRANO is part of the team behind the Mexican Challenge organisation.

“It’s really tough to do both,” Juan Rene admitted. “But this has been a double victory for me: a successful event and Mexico winning.”

SERRANO is not done shooting yet, though. He’s part of a winning programme in Mexico.

“We are a team. We lose like a team, and we win like a team,” explained Alejandra VALENCIA. At the 2014 Mexican Challenge, the host team rallied to do the latter…

Win like a team.

Follow the Mexican Challenge on Facebook and Twitter. Mexico City is hosting the 2015 Archery World Cup Final and 2017 World Archery Championships.